Tampa Bay Preview, Emails – Blocked Punts and Marty B

For the second year in a row, the NFL has asked the Cowboys
to open with two straight on the road before playing their home opener on Sunday
against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Obviously, they are
smarting pretty badly about the egg that was laid in Seattle, but now see 8 of
14 home games and recognize the opportunities that lie ahead. If they can simply make their new stadium an
actual home field advantage, they will be in pretty good shape this
season. Unfortunately, with a 13-11 home
record since they left Texas Stadium behind, it doesn’t appear that the home
environment has much effect on the Cowboys. The stadium seldom gets loud, and while I used to blame that on the
architecture and the cavernous design of the stadium, I must concede that
college games and the Super Bowl were very loud and therefore perhaps more of a
reflection of the audible impact of the Cowboys’ fans themselves.

Is that because these fans do not necessarily buy what the team
has been selling over the last few years or is it because the ticket prices
have brought a quieter more subdued type of fan to the game? I am not totally full of theories. And, should crowd noise really be factored in
when looking at a win/loss record? Perhaps the team assembled has only been good enough to win 13 of 24
home games in the last 3 regular seasons, and blaming a subdued fan-base is
misguided. Whatever the reason, it
appears the opponents are not scared of a trip to Arlington.

Tampa destroyed Carolina in Week 1 before letting the Giants off the hook
in New Jersey last weekend by collapsing late and surrendering a ton of points
and yards in the fourth quarter.

They are a new team that
is getting used to a new coaching staff under new coach Greg Schiano who has
brought in a new style and a new attitude of accountability and hard work. It
will be interesting to see if his style has more staying power of his
predecessor Raheem Morris, as we heard all about how Morris was bringing his
style of relating to the players and not being some screamer back when the Bucs
were having a big 2010.  So goes the cycle of coaching styles.
 Nothing works when you lose, everything makes sense when you
lose.

But, perhaps the thing to make most note of is
that the cheapskate Bucs have started to spend some money again.  In
comes free agent prizes WR Vincent Jackson and LG Carl Nicks.  Anyone
who follows my essays know my regard for Nicks.  I
thought he should have been the No. 1 target for the Cowboys in free agency back
in January
.  The Cowboys went in a different direction, but
Nicks almost never allows anyone to get past him and will serve Tampa quite
well despite his guard opposite Davin Joseph being injured and lost for the
year.

With Jackson and top picks Mike Williams and
Arrelious Benn, the Bucs now are building a reasonable set of targets for Josh
Freeman.  Dallas Clark is the tight end and even Jordan Shipley has
now been signed to add some slot assistance.  Freeman actually appears
to have a little bit of help besides a thumping running game.

Doug Martin is now their top running back option, from Boise
State, and LeGarrette Blount provide the backup play in the ground
attack.

On defense, they have plenty of high-energy
players that will fly to the ball, but no real overwhelming front players that
require a game-plan to be centered around slowing them down.  Michael
Bennett and Adrian Clayborn will run all day but should be neutralized with
proper efforts from the tackles.  Inside, Gerald McCoy has not been
the game-changer they had hoped when they took him so high, but there is no
question he is the most dynamic of the front.

The back
7 of the defense features plenty of players who have dazzled in pre-draft
workouts in the last few years.  Mason Foster and Lavonte David are
two excellent linebacker prospects, and everyone knows about Aqib Talib, Ronde
Barber, and the apple of the Cowboys’ eye, Mark Barron from Alabama.

Barron has not looked totally comfortable at safety yet, but
once he gets his bearings, he appears to be one of those play-making safeties
that will nail down his spot for quite a while. The Cowboys war-room
gave every indication that if Morris Claiborne was gone early in the 2012
draft, that they would try to mobilize up the board to get Barron.
 Did the Cowboys need a big-time corner more than a big-time safety?
 Like Tyron Smith vs JJ Watt the year before, I am not sure there is a
wrong answer to that question.

One thing that jumps
out at you is that there will be opportunities down the field.  Eli
Manning and Hakeem Nicks enjoyed their day, but the word is starting to get out
that Dez Bryant is not a big fan of press coverage.  If Talib jumps on
Dez, it could be a fun match-up to watch all day.

I
will take the Cowboys to break out and win, 27-17. It should be noted
that I had the Cowboys winning last week, too, for what it’s worth – Which
doesn’t appear to be much.

 EMAILS!!!!

Email from Debra:

Bob, 


I think you’re confusing causation/correlation with regard to the +25
rushing attempts. The winning percentage is better because they’re protecting a
lead. They’re running out the clock. Teams don’t typically win games by
allowing the RB pound his way X amount of times. 


By the way, Football Outsiders
and other football writers sympathetic to advanced stats have written about
this many times. I know you’re familiar with Football Outsiders’ work, so I was
surprised that you came to this conclusion.

 

As to whether the Cowboys should have ran the ball more,
I’m not sure. Murray had 12 carries for 44 yards (3.7
YPC). 



Seattle is well known for their stingy run defense. From watching the
game live, as well as seeing a few all 22 clips from other sources, it seemed
like Seattle played heavy toward the line of scrimmage with Earl Thomas back
deep on many plays. That, I think, would encourage passing plays. Especially
considering the talent Dallas has at WR/TE (and RB if you consider Murray a
receiver in this context).

 

 

 

 

Thanks, Debra for the email.  She
is referring to my “Decoding Garrett” story this week that discusses
the Cowboys falling out of balance with regard to running the football which
you can read here
.  She is also referencing a rather famous
essay that Football Outsiders about the myth of running the ball to win a game
which
can be read here
.

I am a very big fan of
the work of Football Outsiders and agree with their overall premise that
running is not the key to winning, it is often a result of winning.  I
know all of this and yet I write that the Cowboys balance is a very important
element to their game-plan that Jason Garrett often ignores and it gets the
Cowboys in trouble.

Let me explain the difference, in
my opinion.  From the 68 games that I have tracked since I have begun
my play by play Cowboys database, I have seen the Cowboys fall into the traps
of scrapping their normal game plan – every play brings a new personnel
grouping and a logical mix of formations and play ideas – for what amounts to a
shotgun-heavy, exclusive-pass offense that is closer to Texas Tech circa 2008 than
it is to a traditional NFL offense.

When the Cowboys
do this, they get in big trouble and run into major inefficiency numbers.
Shotgun, with 11 personnel, is something that many of the best
offenses in football have done with ease for years.  The Colts,
Patriots, Saints, Packers, and Chargers all employ large doses of Shotgun 11
and drive defenses crazy trying to slow them down.  But, not the
Cowboys.  When the Cowboys go shotgun 11 – which is their 2-minute
drill offense and their 3rd Down offense – they get into major protection
problems, which lead to sacks, false starts, and holding penalties, which then
lead to 3rd and 17. And nothing good happens on 3rd and 17.

My issue with balance may actually not be run/pass.
It may be shotgun/under center.  It is harder to run those
numbers, but that is the real issue.  Shotgun is the least physical
style of football you can play, as your offensive lineman are always going
backwards.  You never allow them to fire off the ball, so they will
never get a physical edge in a game.  I think the Cowboys offense has
always worked better with Romo under center and a run/pass balance threat for
the linebackers and safeties to consider.

But, no, I
am not someone who thinks that if Emmitt carries 20 times, the Cowboys
automatically win.  If I did, you would give Emmitt the ball the first
20 plays and load up the bus.  That isn’t real football.

Dave writes:

Should the Cowboys
consider a special teams coaching change?  It seems that the big plays
rarely happen and the catastrophes are becoming more common.  It
didn’t even appear that the Seahawks did anything special to block that
punt.


And would
it be illegal for the Cowboys to ever block a punt?

I am certainly glad you asked me that!

No, it doesn’t appear the Seahawks were trying to block as they only rushed 6
guys.  With 8 blocking 6, it should not be this difficult.
 But, Dan Conner and Bruce Carter both got beat to their outside
shoulders and honestly, 2 different Seahawks could have blocked that punt.
 Bruce Irvin got the credit on tv, but Malcolm Smith actually did the
deed before Jerrod Johnson ran it in.

Here is the
photographic evidence of who was on the scene.

One of these
days, I would love to figure out why the Cowboys have the unbalanced formation
on their punts, but I have never received a solid answer.  It is awful
deflating to work all week on being prepared to play a game like this only to
be sabotaged because 2 linebackers cannot occupy their man for enough time for
Chris Jones to get the punt off.

I am sure you are
wondering a few questions about this blocked punt, right?

 1) Do the Cowboys lose every game in which they
get a punt blocked?

No, it just seems that way.
 In the last 15 years, they have lost in Seattle (2012), at the Jets
(2011), at Arizona (2008), at Philadelphia (2001), at New York Giants (2001),
and at Kansas City (1998).  However, they have had punts blocked at
Indianapolis (2010), home versus Washington (2002), and home versus San
Francisco (2001) and won.

So, of the last 9 punts
that the Cowboys have had blocked, they are 3-6.  And wow, Filip Filipovic,
the punter in 2001, had 3 punts blocked in one season.  That is
amazing, given that Mat McBriar had 3 punts blocked in his entire career.

 2) How come the Cowboys never seem to block a
punt of their own?

 

Let’s take a look at this historical record on this
front, shall we?

Last 15 years, the Cowboys have
blocked just 3 punts.  If you can name them without looking, you are
the biggest Cowboys fan of all time.

*10/31/1999 – Lemanski Hall blocked a Hunter Smith punt
in a loss at Indianapolis.

*12/8/2002 – Marcus Steele blocked a Bill Lafluer punt in
Texas Stadium in a game best remembered for Terrell Owens going to the star and
George Teague knocking him off of it.

And the last
punt blocked by a Dallas Cowboy?

*11/23/2008 – Carlos Polk blocks Andy Lee’s punt at Texas
Stadium that rolls out of the endzone.

I had no
recollection of any of these – despite watching all 3 games closely – and went
to go find the Polk block in my video library.  Here is what I found
for you.  Enjoy:

 

Finally, everyone sent me a variation of this email
or tweet:

Bob, 

WHY DID THE COWBOYS NOT GET
ANYTHING OUT OF MARTELLUS BENNETT AND NOW HE LOOKS LIKE THE BEST SIGNING IN THE
NFL WHILE PLAYING FOR THE HATED GIANTS?????!!!!!??????

This is likely the first thing many of you expected when you found
out that Martellus Bennett, the latest version of Bobby Carpenter (draft pick
that not only did not reach expectations, but never came close to even
demonstrating a worthiness of being in the NFL while in Dallas) signed with a
rival.

Looking back, he was a pick they didn’t need to
make, as they already had a fine No. 2 Tight End in Anthony Fasano if they wanted
to make “12” personnel a part of their attack.  Let’s not
forget, before New England did this idea right, the Cowboys tried to make it
work.  It just never came close to working.

But, why?  Why did he look so promising at times?  Why did he
look like a weapon in training camp but never a threat on game day?
 Who do we blame?  Are the Cowboys this bad at developing
talent?

It makes you wonder.  He already has
3 touchdowns in New York – the only Giant to ever get 3 in his first 3 games –
which is just 1 short of his 4 he scored in Dallas in 4 seasons.

Why did it not work here?

Coaching?
 Yes.  There is no doubt that they tried to turn him into a
highly compensated blocking tight end when they got tired of his act.

Quarterbacking?  Yes.  He was dead to Romo
by about late 2009.  He wasn’t dependable and he didn’t make tough
catches so he was a last resort.

Bennett being
immature?  Yes.  He wasn’t always in great condition, he lost
his confidence, and his immaturity was legendary for thinking he had arrived
when he did arrive in the NFL.

You would think that to
deal with a guy like Bennett, you would need a veteran to show him how to act.
 And the Cowboys had Jason Witten.  You would think that the
Cowboys would be able to pull off the New England model of “12”
personnel with tight ends that cannot be covered by linebackers killing the
seams.  Then, you switch to dime to cover them, and they kill you on
the ground.  There is no way to deal with it.

And the Cowboys never got out of their own barn.

Sooner or later, the wasting of perfectly good picks like Felix Jones and
Martellus Bennett must stop.  And that is the mandate of this current
staff.  Instead, it seems like a perpetual cycle of frustration that
the Cowboys continue to ride when they try to develop players.

Meanwhile, Martellus might have needed the humbling of Dallas to
show him what amount of work is required to be a player on Sundays.
 For the first time in his life, he cannot dominate just by showing
up.  These players are just as gifted and now it comes down to
work.

Regardless, it makes everyone ill to see a giant
talent like Bennett hooking up with Eli Manning now on a regular basis.
 He will surely have a career year (he only needs 99 yards to eclipse
his high) and revive his future chance to get paid.

Maddening.